Lose with Dignity. Celebrate with Grace. (Part I)

by Brett & Kate McKay on August 19, 2011 · 45 comments

in A Man's Life, On Etiquette

“I cannot describe it. I cannot give you any idea of the kindness, and generosity, and magnanimity of those men. When I think of it, it brings tears into my eyes.”  -Charles Marshall, Aide de Camp to General Robert E. Lee

General Lee was wearing a new dress uniform, complete with a red sash and exquisite gold studded sword. Grant, who had not expected the surrender to happen so quickly, was in rough field garb, speckled with mud from riding to the McLean House. When Lee made the decision to surrender, he had said, “there is nothing left me but to go and see General Grant, and I would rather die a thousand deaths.” But not a trace of his anguish could be seen as the two men sat across from each other as the Civil War drew to a close. Grant reflected on that meeting:

“What General Lee’s feelings were I do not know. As he was a man of much dignity, with an impassible face, it was impossible to say whether he felt inwardly glad that the end had finally come, or felt sad over the result, and was too manly to show it. Whatever his feelings, they were entirely concealed from my observation; but my own feelings, which had been quite jubilant on the receipt of his letter, were sad and depressed. I felt like anything rather than rejoicing over the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and had suffered much for a cause.”

The men conversed genially for a time before getting down to business. Grant had no desire to add to the humiliation of the man who was 16 years his senior. He did not take Lee’s sword, allowed the Confederate officers to retain their sidearms, the soldiers to keep their horses and mules for spring planting on their farms, and all the Confederate army to return to their homes free men, if they pledged never again to take up arms against the Union. He also offered to give 25,000 rations to Lee’s starving soldiers.

The two generals parted cordially after their meeting. As Lee mounted his horse, Grant doffed his hat in respect, and his officers followed suit. Lee tipped his hat in return and rode off.

4 years. 625,000 deaths. And yet one man was able to accept defeat with dignity. And the other was able to claim victory with grace.

Grant and Lee were examples of true gentleman. And yet how often do we struggle with doing likewise in the comparably small losses and wins of our lives? How often do we fall into the trap of being the angry sore loser or the smug victor?

In this two part series, we will first look at how to lose with dignity. We will then explore how to celebrate with grace.

How to Lose with Dignity

Accept responsibility for the loss.

A boy blames everyone and everything but himself when he loses—the refs made bad calls, the teacher had it out for him, somebody else must have cheated. A man takes responsibility for what happened.

Bow out gracefully.

No one respects the man who’s still howling for another recount even after the votes have been fairly tallied or the man who’s still pleading to go double or nothing once he’s gotten into a hole. Once you’ve lost, bow out with your dignity intact.

When General Lee realized he had no choice but to surrender and informed his officers of his decision, one lamented, “O General, what will history say of the surrender of the army in the field?”

Lee answered:

“Yes, I know, they will say hard things of us; they will not understand how we were overwhelmed by numbers; but that is not the question, Colonel; the question is, is it right to surrender this army? If it is right, then I will take all the responsibility.”

Acknowledge the winner.

At the conclusion of the 2010 Superbowl, Peyton Manning moped off the field without shaking the hand of opposing quarterback Drew Brees and those of the victorious Saints.

Some said this was not unsportmanslike—that Manning was simply disgusted with the loss and should be able to openly show that disgust (the “do whatever you feel like!” argument). But a failure to acknowledge the victory of your fellow competitor shows a lack of respect for him; a man can be your rival, but you can still admire his courage and his fight, and the fact that on this day, he fought harder. Sulking away also shows a lack of discipline on your part—you are so overwhelmed with anger and grief at your loss that you cannot think of anything else but your own pity. Being able to control your feelings in that moment is the mark of strength and self-control, not to mention perspective.

The presidential election of 1824 was a particularly bitter contest between Andrew Jackson and John Quincy Adams. Jackson had won the popular vote. But without a majority from the electoral college, the decision was thrown to the House, which chose Adams to be the next president. On the night he lost the election, Jackson attended a party at the White House where he came face to face with his rival. The moment was tense as the two men stared at one another. With his wife on his arm, it was Jackson who made the first move, extending his hand to the president-elect and cheerfully inquiring, “How do you do, Mr. Adams? I give you my left hand, for the right, as you see, is devoted to the fair. I hope you are very well, sir.” Answering with what an eyewitness recalled as “chilling coldness,” Adams responded. “Very well, sir; I hope General Jackson is well.” A party guest was struck by the irony of the exchange: “It was curious to see the western planter, the Indian fighter, the stern soldier, who had written his country’s glory in the blood of the enemy at New Orleans, genial and gracious in the midst of a court, while the old courtier and diplomat was stiff, rigid, cold as a statue!”

Of course if your rival is so despicable that he does not warrant even an iota of respect, then you need not give him the respect of your acknowledgement. But be absolutely sure of that–in the heat of the moment you’re apt to think he won through nefarious means, only to realize later, once your anger has cooled, that he bested you fair and square. This goes for contesting the results as well–unless you’re pretty sure that your case can be proven, it’s best to be quiet; causing a row is apt to simply make you look like a petty, sore loser, hurting your reputation further.

And in some cases, even support the winner.

You’ve been putting in overtime at work. Doing the crappy jobs nobody else wants. Kissing butt and taking names. But when an upper-level position opens up, you get passed over for a new hire. You’re livid. You think about quitting but don’t really want to. So you stay, but how will you treat the new hire? Will you rejoice in his foibles as he learns the ropes? Will you seek to sabotage his success? Or will you put aside your bruised ego for the good of the team?

In 1940, England had lost faith in Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and his appeasement policies. He was forced to step down, and Winston Churchill took his place. In the late 1930s, the two men had been rivals; Chamberlain was the admired up and comer and Churchill was the political pariah. Both had fervently desired to be Prime Minister, and while Chamberlain had achieved the goal first, now he was out of the job and his rival was in. But what many don’t realize is that Churchill’s position was tenuous as first; there were those in Parliament who did not trust this man who had for so long been known as a reckless adventurer. It was Chamberlain who reassured the ranks of the Conservative Party and brought them into line behind Churchill, Chamberlain who accepted a position in Churchill’s war cabinet, chaired it during Churchill’s frequent absences, and administrated domestic affairs, and Chamberlain who helped persuade Churchill not to negotiate with Germany and to fight on. The sharp turn in Chamberlain’s fortune greatly depressed him, but his fellow cabinet members noted that he never showed any animosity towards them and always worked as hard as possible. It is thought that if this “loser” had not swallowed his pride and supported Churchill, the British Bulldog might not have lasted in office, and history could have turned out quite differently.

Learn from the loss and move on.

Some men manage to put on a dignified face immediately after a loss, but later proceed to question the victory of their rival—“He caught a lucky break,” “I don’t think he really did the project himself.” Instead, maintain your dignity and move on.

As we discussed earlier this week, losses and failures can be used as lessons and building blocks for getting better. Instead of using your energy to continually stew over the past and bad mouth your rival, focus on preparing for the next challenge, the next contest. Figure out why you lost. Find out what your competitor did differently. Ask your boss for honest feedback on why you were passed over for the promotion. And if a re-match is not possible or desirable, then get on with your life and fill it with new pursuits.

Read Part II here.

Do you have stories from your own life or from history of men losing with dignity? Share them with us in the comments!

{ 45 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Harry August 19, 2011 at 12:55 am

But then a dilemma arises if the man who beat you did so by questionable if not completely unethical means, like falsely claiming credit for your work, lies, fraud, bribery, blackmail, nepotism, etc. How can a good man support someone like that? Men who win don’t always “play fair.”

2 Linc August 19, 2011 at 1:06 am

Not every victory is won righteously, but in those circumstances, it may be more appropriate to simply shut up. Not always, but for the most part.

3 Wilson August 19, 2011 at 1:10 am

I feel like I am able to lose with dignity and celebrate with grace as this article so suggests. But there are some instances where I can’t get myself to:

I recall multiple tennis matches in high school where my opponent would act EXTREMELY cocky because I wasn’t nearly as good as he was. He literally played with his left hand behind his back just show that he could beat me even though I did nothing to provoke this behavior. And in another instance in a doubles match, one of the opponents sat down while only one of them played. I refused to shake their hands. If that’s considered bad form and undignified, then consider me a sore loser.

4 Wilharli August 19, 2011 at 1:20 am

Brilliant. The best AoM article I have read in a while. More parents and coaches should teach this lesson. And we shouldn’t accept anything less from professional athletes, being the role models they are.

5 Brett McKay August 19, 2011 at 1:28 am

The first few comments bring up a good question–I added my opinion on the matter to the article.

6 Robert Black August 19, 2011 at 1:50 am

Thanks Brett. This is a lesson I am still learning and I appreciate your incite.

7 Clay August 19, 2011 at 2:19 am

Great article! Very good introduction and examples. Another great article for a great site.

8 TxJim August 19, 2011 at 3:24 am

If every man would read The Art of Manliness and teach their boys accordingly, the world would right itself in a relatively short time.
AoM for president!

9 Daktari Frank August 19, 2011 at 5:17 am

As a man, should u use unfair means to win if your opponent did that before? As u said above, respect n dignity should be accorded to only those who deserve them. The rest wont appreciate ua kind/benevolent losing gesture.
There is also the question of our personal spirit. Some of us can neva give up n can neva accept defeat-its natural, hw do we handle that? And if,for example, in an election, someone less capable, and with a hidden malicious agenda wins through sm unfair means, d u accept 2 lose fairly?

10 Ashnz August 19, 2011 at 5:46 am

This has been on my mind. Last week I missed out on a great job opportunity. I also happen to know the person who got it instead of me. I honestly felt I was a better candidate and I still think they made a mistake by hiring him. I was annoyed but figured it would be a good time to practise losing graciously. So I just walked upto him, shook his hand and wished him good luck. It felt nice! I also realised that while I did not think he was a great candidate, he must have done a lot better than me in the interview so I just had to accept that.

11 Allen August 19, 2011 at 7:24 am

I think now a days to many people are caught up in the “If I don’t win, I don’t care” attitude. Now this isn’t an official term however it is one I have coined. I play on the varsity bowling team at my high school and you’d be amazed at the lack of respect there are among teams. I was playing in a match where the one kid made this awesome shot (in my mind). It may have been a total fluke but I none the less looked at him and said in a cheerful tone “Wow that was a great shot, I’ve never seen something like that” To which he replied with a prompt “F*@# you, you better watch your back.” And after the match I tried apologizing for the misunderstanding and instead of accepting the apology he saw it fit to knock my 16lbs bowling ball down onto my own feet. None the less I’m going to steer clear of him next time we play his school. But thank you for the great article. I love reading articles like these and try to apply them to my life. Have a good day

12 DSJ August 19, 2011 at 9:03 am


Maybe next time you play that school you could print out his article and give it to your competitor.

13 Grant August 19, 2011 at 9:42 am

Great article. There is hardly anything more manly than men being humble and going about it graciously. Grant was heavily criticized( along with Col. Chamberlain ) for letting the Confederates leave with such honor. Col. Chamberlain( 20th Maine ) saluted the Confederates as did the his entire division allowing them( as you have noted ) to take their rifles and other provisions, ALL on their word!

Men of that time were of a caliber that we contemporaries would do well to model ourselves after. Their example is incredible and truly breath taking compared to modern manliness.

14 Sean August 19, 2011 at 10:21 am

Excellent article. I’m a civil war history buff in a small way, have visited Appomattox and many other great sites- always admired the dignity and chivalry of Lee’s surrender, from both sides. I understand some of the union soldiers and officers even gave the rebels 3 cheers as they laid down their arms. I think I’d have cried if I’d been there haha. Indeed some qualities there to emulate!

15 James August 19, 2011 at 10:50 am

GREAT post.

16 JohnnyR August 19, 2011 at 11:33 am

Great article with a very teachable principle: “Lose with dignity, Win with Grace”.

I’ve been teaching my 5 year old little boy about winning and losing. Even though I want him to always strive to win and do his best and find it completely acceptable for him to feel disappointed when he doesn’t win, we have a motto that we recite often.

“Sometimes we win. Sometimes we lose. But we can always have fun playing the game.” I want him to enjoy winning and not make himself out to be a brat if he is bested by someone else. This little mantra seems to be helping him.

Thanks for another great post AoM!

17 Mike August 19, 2011 at 11:37 am

I am a fan of a pro team, that everyone else seems to hate.
I find it difficult to be a good looser at times because people tend to “rub it in”

18 Brandon Moore August 19, 2011 at 12:04 pm

in Peyton Manning’s defense i believe he had said he left the field after the SB to let the Saints have their moment and enjoy the celebration. during special events like this, thats been important to him since college. otherwise, hes always at mid field after “regular” games and willing to do interviews.

19 Dano August 19, 2011 at 12:46 pm

Great article. I manage an adult baseball team of a lot of former college players, and one thing that really gets under my skin is when players on my team will hit a home run and stand there watching it at the plate. It shows up the other team. It’s my first season and it can be difficult to get on your players without seeming like a tool, since most of them are my friends as well. It’s been a great learning experience and hopefully as a team we can learn to win with more grace, and if we lose, do it with dignity.

20 Ron August 19, 2011 at 3:48 pm


My high school coach’s philosophy when dealing with disrespectful opponents was to “crush them with kindness.” We were there to play, win or lose, and at the end of the day dignity and grace are the only things you have. It’s great mantra and one that I still carry with me today.

21 James Sawatsky August 19, 2011 at 4:16 pm

I am guilty of being an ungracious winner at times. Or, of being accused of it. I win so rarely, that I do glow and maybe rub it in a little when I do. Big Munchkin game on Tuesday. I haven’t won Munchkin ever so good time to practice my gracious losing.

22 Aisha August 19, 2011 at 5:11 pm

Great post. As someone who plays strategy board games often enough, there are a couple of people I’d love to forward this to, heh. I’ll also keep it in mind the next time I get steamrolled. :o)

23 Tadd Griffith August 19, 2011 at 7:44 pm

a fellow engineer and I were absolute opposites and put a great deal of time into toxic gamesmanship regarding our accomplishments and diminishing the accomplishments of the other. the relationship was very representative of the business culture at this work site … a site that went out of business. i moved on and quickly came to realize how much i hated, really hated, the work that i was involved in. i quickly began to climb the ladder at my place of employment and one day came to find that my old opponent would be a direct report. the reintroduction of the relationship was tense and silent. it absolutely killed me one day … and i still do not know why i did this … to tell him my thoughts that he was the better engineer, better person, and better family man than i could ever aspire to be. (ok, maybe not in those words). i’ve moved on, changed jobs, and relocated … but to this day, 11 years later, he remains one of my best friends, we are both successful, and often apologize to one another when we review our successes in family, friendship, and career … and how much time and energy we wasted pursuing the downward spiral.

24 Mike Duty August 19, 2011 at 9:28 pm

While Lee’s surrender to Grant was indeed gracious, one of the men who was with Lee reported that AFTER the surrender Lee punched his right hand into his gloved left hand in fury three times [I'm paraphrasing here, but it's from Robert E. Lee On Leadership by H.W. Crocker III]. So, Lee did “let off a little steam” when he thought it was appropriate to do so.

25 Dan Harris August 20, 2011 at 2:27 am

Great article. I will leave it in a conspicous place for my 13 year old son to “find” and read.

26 Astrodiva August 20, 2011 at 5:23 am

I just want to tell the gentlemen who have posted here, it is amazing that you understand and can demonstrate true sportsmanship. I work in the competitive poker world. I work with lawyers, doctors, judges, professors, engineers, drug dealers, convicted hardcore felon inmates and many others as my opponents. I am a woman, and I am invariably chastised by opponents from every arena. I also watch them berate, intimidate, or invariably congratulate each other. When I lose to an opponent I offer a handshake, no matter how much of a *—–* he may be. I offer the same when I win. At the end of the day, with as few manners as people in general have these days, MY day is about… integrity. But for what it’s worth, the great pokerplayer Stu Ungar did say, “Show me a good loser and I’ll show you a Loser.” It’s not easy to lose. So shake your opponent’s hand, suck it up and…hone your game. Get back out there and do it again, do it better next time. And WIN.

27 Mr Writing III August 20, 2011 at 8:58 am

Very good. We need more of it.

28 David August 20, 2011 at 10:37 am

One of the comments above reminded me of a time when I learned about the value of good sportsmanship. When I was in Little League, I came to a point where I hit my first home run in kid pitch. I knew I turned on it perfectly and I stood there and watched it as I trotted around the basses. After I touched home plate, I started to go back to the dugout when my Dad took me by the arm and yanked me behind the dugout where nobody could see me. He then told me if I ever showed up my opponent like that again, he would burn out my hide end. He also told me that I should remember the pitcher that gave up the home run and think about what I needed to do.

I ended up going over to the other team’s dugout and apologized for what I did. He seemed surprised, but he accepted my apology and we moved on. I think this is a valuable lesson for anybody who has taken a loss, and anybody who has won. That moment was a great gift from my Dad.

29 Michael August 20, 2011 at 1:17 pm

Can you imagine how much stronger a nation we would be if the rest of the South had followed Lee’s example after the Civil War?

I vividly recall playing a board game with a friend. I won handily, and he claimed that the side he was playing was impossible to win with. So we switched sides, and I did the things that I was afraid he was going to do to me and was successful. He was pretty stunned, and I was at first tempted to downplay my win in order to spare his feelings. But he rallied quickly and congratulated me fully. I have always felt grateful to him since, for allowing me to enjoy my success. Plus, of course, he got the hang of the game later and we’ve enjoyed many back-and-forths since.

30 Kael August 21, 2011 at 7:00 am

Interesting article that seems to be of benefit to all of us, stoicism is much needed these days as we gloat grandly over our victories and despair over the unfair forces that led us to defeat. As I work two jobs to keep my little family able to enjoy those things they enjoy, like food and shelter, and I am daily humbled to pass through the door to my second job, the thoughts this article has brought up will keep me focused while doing what needs to be done. I hope that leading by example will still work on the youths I am now surrounded by, but it is still more important for my character and integrity to try to live up to these ideals.

31 Rick August 21, 2011 at 5:31 pm


So what was the problem, exactly? The other kid threw the ball, you hit a home run, circled the bases, and went to the dugout. Isn’t that the point of the game? If anything, being made to apologize to the other kid for making a good hit seems to imply that being better or luckier or more on your game than someone else is something to be ashamed of. Coddling an opponent who isn’t as good as you won’t make him improve himself. Beating him, shaking his hand afterward, and telling him you look forward to playing next time, will.

(Take my team sports opinions with a grain of salt: I hated every minute of tee-ball when I was forced to play it and would walk to the bases to ensure I got out or when placed in the field I’d walk up to and hand the ball to other kids rather than throw it so they’d replace me.)

32 Aaron August 21, 2011 at 8:30 pm

I hate it when I hear about how the enemies we face overseas don’t deserve any decency when we capture them.
Even if they don’t wear uniforms, they’re still people.
It costs us very little to refrain from retribution, to provide aid to wounded opponents, and to not torture them while we (temporarily) impound them.
It costs us dearly in a moral sense when we do the opposite.

33 Aaron August 21, 2011 at 8:33 pm

@Allen, that kid sounds just plain psycho. Only an irrational person does that “no matter what you say to me, it’s the wrong thing to say” act.
Only a nut can twist a compliment into an insult. You’d do well to avoid them.

34 Aaron August 21, 2011 at 8:35 pm

BTW, in a similar spirit, read Sherman’s letter to the mayor of Atlanta. The leader of that city begged Sherman to spare the city, to which the general replied that to do so would only prolong the war and therefore everyone’s suffering.
“The momement this conflict ends” Sherman said, in essence. “I cease to become your opponent, and become your defender.”

35 JeffC August 23, 2011 at 12:24 am

Some readers are confused: they refer to “losing with grace,” but the skill is to lose with dignity, i.e., to keep your temper in check, to ignore feelings of humiliation, to acknowledge your opponent’s victory with good cheer. Grace is displayed when the winner keeps his ego in check, does not taunt or seek to humiliate his opponent, but rather lifts him up. Grace can only be shown from the superior (winner’s) position.

Though they are both products of maturity, they are two different character qualities, each to be displayed at the proper moment. Confusing them clouds understanding of the issue and retards personal growth in both.

@ Daktari Frank — are you texting from your phone, or something? Anyway: you accord respect to your opponent unless his behavior is so egregious that it’s obvious to all that your effort is wasted. By that time, you look like the better man in the eyes of spectators, and are excused for turning off the valves of your kindness. That still doesn’t excuse lowering yourself to give tit-for-tat, though.

@ Allen — if you are referring to forces of the United States Military, rest assured they operate under a very high ethic. We afford any captured combatants, uniformed or not, every guarantee of the Geneva Conventions. Our current enemies are not signatories of those conventions and would never think of treating prisoners as royally as we do.

I recall seeing video reports on at least one instance during the Gulf War where US forces pleaded over a PA system with outmatched Iraqi militia to surrender, so that they would not have to die. The result was that the poorly-armed Iraqi citizen-soldiers threw out their weapons, came out with their hands raised, dropped to their knees, and were obviously and loudly thanking the US soldiers for sparing their lives, while the Americans were attempting to pat them down and handcuff them. Often the American soldiers where hard-pressed to keep their charges facing away from them w/ hands behind their heads: the Iraqis constantly reached out to grab their captors’ hands in order to kiss them, and were scuttling around on their knees in order to get near enough to an American to do so. The American soldiers allowed the Iraqis their dignity, by displaying grace. It was quite an experience to watch.

Consider why it is that we’re willing to spend 1.4 million dollars to build one smart bomb. They certainly aren’t cost-effective. The reason we go to the expense is that we value human life, and go to great lengths to avoid killing innocents. It would be much simpler and cheaper to carpet-bomb, but we value human life so much, we spend 1.4 million per drop, in order not to kill people.

Our Rules of Engagement are often so strict that we pay for our restraint with the blood of our own soldiers, so that the same end can be met. There simply isn’t a military on the planet that operates under such a highly-developed ethic, even when it’s to our own detriment.

Examples to support your assertions would be appreciated.

@ Allen — you’re way more of a man than that kid.

36 Jack August 24, 2011 at 11:41 am

Fantastic article. I am very much looking forward to the ‘Win with Grace’ part.

37 David August 25, 2011 at 12:23 pm

Grace under pressure exemplified. It’s easy when you win…but the real test as a man and a person is how you lose.

38 Pechorin August 25, 2011 at 10:12 pm

Good article on an important topic, but I can’t help but quote Grant’s continuation:
“I felt like anything rather than rejoicing at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse.”

39 Mark August 26, 2011 at 9:34 am

GREAT piece Brett- very well polished and to the point- and an important lesson that many men do not get, because they have not been taught how to lose gracefully- great job!

40 Diocletian August 28, 2011 at 9:32 am


You said, “There simply isn’t a military on the planet that operates under such a highly-developed ethic, even when it’s to our own detriment.”

An ethics that calls for one to act in a way that is to one’s detriment, in ANY situation, –especially in combat–is NOT AT ALL one that is conducive to one’s well being or survival.

A universally applicable code of ethics/morality is possible when it is derived from an objective (reality-based) understanding of the nature of human beings and the nature of the metaphysically real world and universe in which they live.

The objective standard of such a code is a person’s own life, that is, that which is objectively required for one’s own life/survival.

That which is objectively conducive to one’s life is the good; that which is objectively detrimental to it is the evil.

Examples of what are objectively conducive to one’s own life are one’s legitimate rights to one’s own life, personal liberty, private property (regardless of the type and the amount), freedom of contract and association, and pursuit of one’s own happiness.

Any code of ethics that calls for one do act in any way that is detrimental to one’s own life/survival is an ethical code that is unfit for human life, and if one values one’s own life, one discards such a code as one would spit out poison or rotten food.

Most people are introduced to the subject of morality and ethics via religious indoctrination of one sort of the other, beginning in childhood, and every code of religious morality advocates and demands that one engage in self-sacrifice because the standard of such moralities is some (non-existent) god(s)’ approbation, or the approbation of these fictional entities’ representatives or mouthpieces on earth (catholic popes and Warren Jeffs come immediately to mind).

Secular statist moralities, such as those enforced in absolutist monarchies and totalitarian dictatorships, hold that the standard of the good is sacrificing oneself to The Monarch, The Great Teacher (Mao Tse-tung), The Dear Leader
(Stalin, Kim Jong-il), The Nation, The People, The Race, The State, or The “Common Good”.

What statist and religious moralities both have in common is self-sacrifice, and the ethical code that you describe, JeffC, obviously has self-sacrifice at its root, on account of the implicit expectation that it be practiced even in a context that makes doing so detrimental to oneself.

For your own sake–and for the sake of those in your life whose presence in it you value–you had better check the premises of that ethical code to which you subscribe because it is fundamentally, dangerously, flawed, for it requires that you sacrifice yourself, and there is nothing whatsoever honorable, or virtuous, or one’s-life-supporting–or manly–about self-sacrifice–to anything or anyone !

For starters, I suggest you read “The Objectivist Ethics” by Ayn Rand, carefully and thoughtfully.

Also, John Galt’s speech from Rand’s novel “Atlas Shrugged”

And “Human Action” by Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises.

I wish you enjoyable, challenging, thought-provoking reading, and good thinking !

41 Roman August 29, 2011 at 3:46 pm

@ Diocletian

“there is nothing whatsoever honorable, or virtuous, or one’s-life-supporting–or manly–about self-sacrifice–to anything or anyone”

Ayn Rand came to this philisophical conclusion after *others* sacrificed to have her sent to the United States. There is more manliness in self-sacrifice then anything she ever did. Were it not for the willingness to self-sacrifice, I wouldn’t exist.

42 Dave August 29, 2011 at 10:03 pm


I have read your comment and also did some reading into Ayn Rand and her philosphy of Objectivism. I have to say that I disagree with your arguement. If it was not for the sacrifices of others (police, military etc) then we would not be living in a world where you have the right to free speech. I believe that sacrifice to be one of the highest values of humanity. I have done it for the last 25 years in more ways than one and I am proud of my service/sacrifice to others. The ideology of pursuit of ones own happiness and not sacrificing for others is a self centred and selfish way to exist. Please do not think that this comment is a direct attack on your belief as it is not. I just truly believe that without sacrifice civilization could not exist.

Kindest regards

43 BenG August 31, 2011 at 7:30 pm

Religion and ethics aside, the “objective” understanding of human life you describe ignores pleasure, happiness, and other real elements of life, many of which are derived from self-sacrificial acts; from the most mundane–eg., offering your seat to an elderly person–all the way to the ultimate sacrifice of one’s life for others. For the one sacrificing, there is more benefit than detriment–which is ultimately why we do it, and why we have a civil society.

44 Pirate September 6, 2011 at 10:52 am


Ayn Rand’s philosophy (as she explains in her diaries and an unfinished novel) was based on an admiration for men who did not have the capacity to care about their fellow human beings.

We call those types “socipaths” and “serial killers”, not “examples of manliness”.

45 Dave Tindell September 17, 2011 at 7:02 pm

If Diocletian has children, I hope they are never in a position where their lives are threatened, because their dad won’t be willing to step in and perhaps sacrifice himself to save them.

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